Günter Grass: The Art of Fiction no. 124

“The Art of Fiction” is a recurring feature of the prestigious literature journal, The Paris Review.  In “The Art of Fiction,” an individual author will discuss their work and the context which it was created, their personal life, and occasionally, will discuss politics.  In Grass’ “Art of Fiction” interview (which is, consequently, one of the lengthiest and richest interviews with Grass in English), he discusses his work; adaptations of his work, including the film adaptation of The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel), directed by Volker Schlöndorf; his relationship with Chancellor Willy Brandt (whom Grass was a speechwriter for in the late 1960s, an experience Grass captures in his work, From the Diary of the Snail (Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke)); his thoughts on German reuinfication; popular conceptions of his work; and his thoughts on Germany’s attempt to deal with the legacy of the Holocaust.

As a result, this interview is one of the most important conducted with Grass due to the sheer volume of topics addressed, some of which do not appear elsewhere.  For instance, Grass responds in some ways to allegations that his 1977 novel, The Flounder (Die Butt) perpetuates negative gender stereotypes.  Grass dismisses these criticisms by stating that many feminists critics have not read the book in toto.  In the estimation of the editor of this archive, this answer is evasive and entails that Grass, at least when it comes to The Flounder, did not take criticism from the perspective of gender seriously.

In terms of the contemporary landscape this interview was conducted in, Grass is responding to calls to reunify Germany – an act which he controversially opposed.  Publications regarding Grass tend to condemn him for his anti-unification stance.  For instance, an obituary published by The Economist writes, “Rather than unification, Mr Grass advocated a confederation of the two Germanies, to avert the geopolitical danger of an overly powerful fatherland. East Germans begged to differ.” Grass explains his aversion to reunification as one guided more than caution, but by an acknowledgment that politics regarding the East, as practiced in East Germany were one of resentment, anger, and trauma, making an allegiance unlikely.  Whether Grass is vindicated or defeated by history on this topic aside,  to consider Grass’ opposition to reunification as an old man’s paranoia, misses the point entirely and derails the conversation regarding the justice of the arrangement.

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